The first route proposed for the Northern Pacific Railroad was to run from Duluth to St. Cloud and from thence to Breckenridge, as a feasible route was known to exists along that course, whereas most people had their doubts as to the practicability of building a railroad farther north. The first exploring expedition was fitted out in June, 1869, under the direction and management of George A. Bracket, of Minneapolis. Their first camp was pitched at Small Lake, a little west of St. Cloud on the 9th day of July, 1869.
Accompanying the expedition was J. Gregory Smith, at that time governor of Vermont, and also president of the Northern Pacific Railroad Company, Eugene M. Wilson, of Minneapolis, member of Congress from the third Minnesota district, Senator William Windom, the Rev. Dr. Lord of Chicago, Charles Carlton Coffin, correspondent of the Boston Journal, and among several others the financial agent of Jay Cook, a man whose name was Holmes.
Pierre Bottineau, a Red River half-breed, and one of the most noted frontiersmen of the Northwest, was the guide of the party, and John O. French, now of Detroit Township, was his assistant.
The party consisted of about seventy men, fifty-five of whom were teamsters; twenty-five light wagons and buggies, and about thirty heavy wagons, loaded with provisions, baggage and general camping outfit. As they left St. Cloud, they made a very imposing procession, stretching out along the road for nearly half a mile in extent. They moved by easy stages, following the old Alexandria and Red River road, and in the course of about a week reached Fort Abercrombie, a frontier post occupied by United States troops. The party here divided, about one-half of them remaining behind to explore the Red River Valley and the country adjacent thereto in a direction north from Ft. Abercrombie.
The other half of the expedition now procured the services of a squad of twenty-five or thirty soldiers from Ft. Abercrombie, under the command of a lieutenant to serve as an escort, and then, under the leadership of Bottineau and French, proceeded to explore the country across the Dakota plains to the Missouri River. They crossed the Maple, Sheyenne and James Rivers, coming to the Missouri some distance north of where Bismarck now stands.
At their camp near the James River they were fired upon, in the night, by a party of Sioux Indians and skirmishing with the pickets was quite lively for a couple of hours, and was only brought to a close by the dawning of day. One soldier was slightly wounded.
After examining the approaches to the Missouri, and ascertaining the feasibility of a crossing, the party started back by a new route a little north of their outward trail, and about the 15th of August reached the Red River a little north of where Fargo now stands. Here they met the party which they had left at Ft. Abercrombie a few weeks before.
After a short rest, the united expedition crossed the Red River and started on their homeward journey in an easterly direction across the Red River flats, and on the 21st of August, 1869, camped for the night on the shores of Floyd Lake, in what is now Detroit Township. The next day being Sunday, the expedition rested from their journeying and the Rev. Dr. Lord held religious services at the camp, and preached the first sermon ever preached in Becker County by a white man of which we have any knowledge.
At this camp at the southwest corner of Floyd Lake, Charles Carleton Coffin wrote a letter to the Boston Journal, giving a description of the country in the western part of Becker County, and appropriately naming it the Park Region of Minnesota.
The following is a copy of his letter:
The four families referred to were the Henry Way, Sherman Sperry and Stillman families, who had settled the year before at Oak Lake.
The settler referred to with the long hair was a half luny individual by name of Talmage, who lived in a little dugout a mile or two southwest of where Audubon now stands. He left the country the next year. He is the man who cut the hay referred to in the letter above.
The expedition then proceeded on its way to the east, the route followed by them being very nearly identical with that now occupied by the Northern Pacific Railroad itself. This expedition settled the location of the Northern Pacific between Duluth and Moorhead, but another expedition was sent out the next year to make a farther examination of the country between he Red River and the Missouri. John O. French was also a member of this expedition, and to him I am indebted for a large part of the information contained in this article.
The Northern Pacific Railroad was just a little more than one year in being built through Becker County. Grading began in the vicinity of the Otter Tail County line and in the Detroit Woods, about the middle of October, 1870, and was finished in the western part of the county about the middle of November, 1871. By the first of December, trains were making regular trips to Oak Lake Cut, which were continued through the winter, but only two trains were run through to Moorhead that fall, as the road was blockaded with snow until the middle of the next April, although a large crew of men shoveled snow all winter at an expense of $30,000.
General Rosser was chief engineer of this part of the railroad. And engineer by the name of Keith had charge of the work from the second crossing of the Otter Tail to Chris. Anderson's place on Section 8, in Audubon Township, and Reno, a relative of Major Reno of Custer Massacre fame, had charge from there to where Hawley, in Clay County, is now. In 1870 and 1871 an engineer by the name of McClellan, a cousin of General McClellan, surveyed a line from Floyd Lake, in Detroit Township to Pembina. Fred. Brackett had the contract of grading the road from the crossing of the Otter Tail River near the county line to Detroit Lake, and George M. C. Brackett graded the road from Detroit Lake a distance of ten miles to the west.
T.M. Ault had a sub-contract for grading a few miles east from Detroit Lake.
An old Scotchman by the name of James McCoy, had a contract for grading, where the village of Lake Park now stands.
The Soo railroad was built across Becker County in the year 1903.